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(By John Boston) For some — especially the unwashed masses who recently moved here — it can be a mystery as to how their particular town earned its handle.

Saugus, for example, was taken from the ancient city of Saugus, Mass., birthplace of 19th-century force of nature and millionaire, Henry Mayo Newhall.

The word, “Saugus,” comes from the Narragasut Indian word, meaning: “Sandy spit of land.”

I’ll lay off the “spit” straightlines.

For a while.

A smidge back, I got a call from the editor of the Saugus Advertiser, the daily newspaper in our sister city in New England. They were compiling a special edition featuring Saugus, Calif. The editor asked if I could donate something that linked the two cities.

For about 20 years, I taught a class on the history of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The very first lesson I gave is one from kindergarten. It’s a game called Telephone. I always take the first person in the first row, stage right, pull them aside and whisper — several times — the same, exact sentence:

“Ten Wolves — was the war chief — who first discovered — the Santa Clara river valley — in 1066 B.C.”

It’s a nonsensical statement, completely made up and relating to nothing. It’s just a test to show the students how something simple can get lost in translation after translation, telling after re-telling.

You know. Like history?

Or journalism?

I used to let the silly little ditty get all the way around class. Over the years, I started stopping it first half-way, then when it got to the end of the first row. A few times, out of wickedness, I’d ask the second person to repeat the sentence.

It’s always, always wrong.

People hear things incorrectly.

So it was with the fable of the bloodthirsty pirates of Saugus, California, back in the early 1700s.

Our valley historian emeritus was this tall drink of water and scholarly fellow named Arthur Buckingham Perkins. Ol’ A.B. passed along this story scanning 60 years about how a band of cutthroat brigands had been raiding the foggy coastline along Ventura and Santa Barbara.

This always struck me as odd.

In the early 1700s, there were maybe eight white people from Mexico to Washington state. That number may have actually been closer to zero.

Still. Mr. Perkins was a creature as close to an intellectual god as you can get in Southern California and his word was never questioned.

These pirates caused such a reign of terror, that Spanish sailors were sent to bring them to justice. A posse of musket-wielding navy men finally found the band of buccaneers, engaged in a brief scrimmage, then chased them up our mighty Santa Clara River.

There’s another part of the tale that made me wince.

 

Read more here: John Boston’s Time Ranger & SCV History: When Pirates Attacked the Saugus Speedway